Grade 1 heroine Unique Bella returns to action in Saturday’s $200,000 Santa Maria Stakes (G2) at Santa Anita Park for the first time since being honored with an Eclipse Award as the 2017 champion female sprinter.
The Jerry Hollendorfer pupil has suffered just two losses in her short, eight-race career – finishing second in her June 2016 debut and seventh in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (G1) last November. Despite that loss, Unique Bella still earned championship honors, thanks in part to returning next out for a three-quarter length victory in the December 26 La Brea Stakes (G1).
That seven-furlong contest closed out the Tapit filly’s sophomore campaign, and she makes her four-year-old bow here with regular rider Mike Smith aboard.
Four fillies and mares will line up against Unique Bella in the Santa Maria, including Majestic Heat. The Richard Mandella-trained six-year-old captured three of her five races last year, including the Bayakoa Stakes (G3) and Betty Grable Stakes to round out her 2017 season. Those two races were the Unusual Heat mare’s first tries on dirt, as she previously competed exclusively on turf.
Majestic Heat returned January 13 and finished fifth, beaten only 2 3/4 lengths, after her jockey lost the whip in the La Canada Stakes (G2), and will attempt a return to the winner’s circle here with Flavien Prat taking the reins.
Mopotism was the beneficiary of Majestic Heat’s subpar run in the La Canada, scoring a head victory in the one-mile contest for trainer Doug O’Neill. The bay four-year-old miss earned only her second stakes win in the race, with her first coming in the Island Fashion Stakes at Sunland Park 12 months ago. Mopotism has placed in five other black-type contests, including third behind Unique Bella in the La Brea two back. Mario Gutierrez has been aboard for all but four of the Uncle Mo filly’s 15 races and has the call here.
Stakes winners Kathy’s Song, third in the American Oaks (G1) last out at 18-1, and Shenandoah Queen, fourth in the La Canada most recently, complete the Santa Maria field.
One race later, Bowies Hero makes his four-year-old bow in the $100,000 Thunder Road Stakes (G3) going a mile on the Santa Anita turf.
The Artie Schiller colt captured the Oceanside Stakes over the summer at Del Mar before placing third in both the Del Mar Derby (G2) and Twilight Derby (G2). The Phil D’Amato charge earned a career- and field-best 104 BRIS Speed rating when fifth, beaten only 2 1/2 lengths, in the Hollywood Derby (G1) two back, and rounded out 2017 with a win in the Mathis Brothers Mile (G2) on December 26. Corey Nakatani will be in the irons for the first time.
Returning jockey Kent Desormeaux lost the whip aboard Blackjackcat in the Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1) last out, but that didn’t stop the Tale of the Cat gelding from rallying five wide in the stretch to take third at 19-1. Prior to that, the Mark Glatt trainee was riding a four-race win streak that included the Del Mar Mile Handicap (G2).
Multiple Grade 2 winner Om seeks a return to the winner’s circle, having last visited that spot when taking the 2015 Mathis Brothers Mile. Most recently the Dan Hendricks-trained six-year-old was fourth in both the November 26 Seabiscuit Handicap (G2) and January 1 Joe Hernandez Stakes. Flavien Prat has piloting duties for the initial time on the chestnut.
Finishing the Thunder Road field are Grade 2 runner-up Next Shares, second in the Joe Hernandez last out; Grade 3-placed Tequila Joe, unplaced most recently in the San Gabriel Stakes (G2); and Brazilian-bred Grade 2-placed Ohio.